How To Avoid Senior Identity Theft

how to avoid senior identity theft

There are many different nicknames for senior citizens, some humorous, some serious, and some relating to their age. You've probably heard many of them before, including golden-ager, old-timer, pensioner, retiree, elder, old-fogey, superiors, matriarchs, and many more.

When it comes to nicknames for grandparents, the list is endless, from papa and nana to grandpa, nanny, granny, pa, and dozens more. But despite all the different names attributed to seniors and grandparents, cybercriminals only know them by one name: victims.

The reason is simple: seniors are the primary target of every cybercriminal on the planet because they're often the easiest mark and the easiest to scam. How easy is it? One in four seniors is a victim of some type of cyber scam, and according to the Senate Special Committee on Ageing, scammers are cheating seniors out of nearly $3 billion per year.

Many fall victims to Social Security and tax fraud, while cybercrooks take over a senior's bank account and steal all of their funds. Many end up losing their life savings - money they've worked their entire lives to save and to retire on. And sadly, the problem is getting worse each year.

Why Scammers Target Seniors

Cybercrooks love to target seniors for a variety of reasons. First, as people age, they have a somewhat diminished capacity to grasp current scamming trends. That includes phishing emails and scam phone calls. Once a scammer sends a phishing email to a senior, the latter often clicks on embedded links because those emails look "real." And once they do, they're taken for a lot of money.

Another issue is that many seniors are embarrassed if they fall for a scam and fail to report it or tell trusted relatives about it. They'd rather lose the money than admit they became a victim of a scammer. Seniors don't often review bank statements or credit reports, so they're not even aware of it happening if there is suspicious activity on their accounts. And if a senior is under the care of a caregiver, they're extremely vulnerable to cybercrimes and identity theft.

Different Types Of Scams

Seniors scams are varied, and Medicare fraud is often at the top of the list. Scammers will often steal the senior's medical identity and purchase medications, have procedures performed, or simply send fraudulent bills to Medicare. Another big scam is financial identity theft, or bank fraud, where a scammer takes over the senior's bank account and opens loans, writes checks on the senior's account, and steals their savings.

Tax fraud is another big scam, where cybercrooks steal a senior's tax ID number or Social Security number and steal their refund or submit phony tax returns. A new type of scam that's rapidly growing is synthetic identity theft, where a cybercrook takes portions of a senior's personal information and merges it with fictitious names and other identification. This creates a synthetic fraud, which is often impossible to track down, but the brunt of the issue falls on the senior whose identity was stolen. However, synthetic identity theft is not limited to seniors, and every age group is falling victim to this scam.

There are also the old standbys of phone scams and phishing emails. Why do cybercrooks keep using these? Because they work! It's a numbers game; if they send out 10,000 phishing emails and only a small percentage fall for it, it still ends up being a large number of victims. The best defense is to have a trusted family member explain these types of frauds and show ways to avoid them.

Avoiding Senior Scams

So, what are some of the best ways to help seniors avoid becoming the next victim of a scam? First, you have to remember that cybercrooks gain access to various unauthorized personal data about seniors, and the most likely place they get it is from people-search sites. That means the first step in helping to prevent senior scams is to delete all information found on those sites.

There are more than 100 people-search sites, including WhitePages, Pipl, and US Search. And each one has a set of rules and protocols to delete information and opt-out of the site. So, seniors will need a trusted friend or family member to help them navigate this nightmare, which can become very time-consuming. Nonetheless, it's worth the time and effort invested to remove all of that data.

Another way to help seniors avoid being scammed is to make them aware of the latest scamming techniques. The FTC and the Identity Theft Resource Center publish the latest scams taking place, so they're a good resource to share with seniors. Teach seniors to never respond to emails or scam phone calls unless they personally know the sender or caller - and make them aware that even a Caller ID that shows the call is coming from a government agency, like the FBI, is merely a form of spoofing - technology that can impersonate another name and number.

If a scam or identity theft is suspected, immediately contact the bank involved and cancel the credit or debit cards associated with that account. Put a fraud alert on the senior's credit account with one of the credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. It's free, and it will prevent a cyber crook from opening phony accounts. Report the fraud to the FTC, the police, and the major credit bureaus. This will help protect the senior from incurring charges they never authorized.

By following the suggestions outlined above, you'll help seniors avoid identity theft and help protect their life savings.